MS Good News Report: The Latest Research through October 2020

Research news with a positive angle.


Has an increased risk for MS in African Americans finally been explained?

It’s not great news to note that African Americans with European ancestors face an increased risk for MS. What’s great, however, is that research is finally drilling into factors like race to figure out why.

Two genetic variants which regulate the immune system were found, in a recent study funded by the National MS Society (NMSS), to combine with other genetic and environmental factors to explain “what is often a worse clinical experience of MS in African Americans.”1

African Americans with MS, according to the report, are more likely to experience relapses, require mobility assistance, and face greater disability than compared to Caucasians with MS.

It’s encouraging, if overdue, to finally see MS researchers place a more prominent focus on the interests of people of color. For more insights into the recent NMSS Black MS Experience Summit, visit their virtual event.2


Instead of an MS walk, how about an MS pumpkin walk?

We all come to expect the annual spring MS walks nationwide, but how many of us have considered how October might also be a fine time to promote MS awareness?

It makes sense if you incorporate jack o’ lanterns, which by their very orange nature, can be good symbols for fighting MS. The jack o’ lantern historically is carved and illuminated by a candle ward off the devil; why not create a field of jack o’ lanterns to ward off the evil MS monster—and raise both research funds and awareness?

This is exactly what Amy Reuschling did in Bethel Park, PA. It’s no secret why they call her the “pumpkin queen.” She (with some help) hand carves hundreds of pumpkins to display in her front yard to help raise money to fund MS research. After 20 years of living with the disease herself, she started doing this in 2015 and has since collected more than $15,000.3


NMSS releases stem cell transplant recommendations

According to a report in JAMA Neurology, the NMSS “believes that AHSCT may be a useful treatment option for people with relapsing multiple sclerosis who demonstrate substantial breakthrough disease activity (i.e., new inflammatory central nervous system lesions and/or clinical relapses) despite treatment with high-efficacy disease-modifying therapy or have contraindications to high-efficacy disease-modifying therapies.”4

AHSCT stands forautologous hematopoietic stem cell transplant.

The organization suggests the best candidates for AHSCT are:

  • Under age 50
  • Living with MS for less than 10 years

Research and clinical trials

Research continues to demonstrate AHSCT works for people with RRMS, and previous procedural safety concerns continue to be addressed.

Ideal protocols for delivering AHSCT are still a subject for research. Larger randomized clinical trials must still take place to prove out its advantages over other DMTs, but efforts are proactive: a current trial, the BEAT-MS study, is underway for this purpose.

In the meantime, the NMSS cautions that AHSCT should only be performed by providers with substantial experience and expertise.


Dieting by telemedicine approach works, according to a new study

Delivering dietary advice by way of a telemedicine coach (using a phone and email for check-ins) has been shown in an NMSS-funded pilot study to be effective in addressing proactive changes in eating habits from the convenience of one’s own home.5

The goal of this small study (20 participants) wasn’t to test a specific diet, but to ensure the feasibility of a telemedicine program for supporting those with MS seeking to improve dietary habits. There’s no specific single diet recommended to improve MS symptoms or disease progression. However, a healthy diet is generally considered a “best practice” for individuals with MS.

What type of diet was tested?

The diet chosen in the study was a low-glycemic regimen focusing on foods that minimize spikes in blood sugar. It lasted 12 weeks and participants received meal planning and goal setting worksheets by email. A so-called “telecoach” (healthcare professional) called participants weekly. Ninety percent of participants in the study completed the diet and follow-up measures.

Larger, longer studies in the future should take place to validate these findings, according to the authors.


MS drug research updates, in brief

Lots of news this month regarding disease modifying and other drug therapies:6-10

  • October 2: Tecfidera (dimethyl fumarate) found to inhibit viral growth in the body—in a test tube, anyway
  • October 20: New drug supports the control of inflammatory molecules in mouse models, halting disease progression
  • October 22: Fusion of a key immune system protein to a blood protein shown to prevent destructive immune system cells from infiltrating the central nervous system
  • October 28:Children with MS may experience less disease activity while taking newer disease-modifying therapies (DMTs)
  • October 30: Natalizumab beats out fingolimod in an RRMS head-to-head comparison

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